When we look back at the era in which the Sentinel was first launched, we can see huge differences from today despite the relatively short time span. Just over 40 years ago a woman would still have been extremely unlikely to be granted a mortgage unless they could secure the signature of a male guarantor. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 had come into force by 1975. Also becoming law was the Sex Discrimination Act, and the Employment Protection Act which introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to sack a woman because she was pregnant. These rights and others were hard-won through protests, marches and campaigns such as the women Ford machinists who took strike action over unequal pay.
From its early days, the Sentinel was keen to give space to women’s issues and established a column in 1981 which was titled The Opposition. In 1982 the column reported on women undertaking manual trades. At that time, there were only 3 women in the whole of Edinburgh in this area of employment. And only one woman in the whole of the East of Scotland had started on an apprenticeship with the Construction Industry Training Board. The column noted that despite the efforts being made by schools to encourage young people to access a wide range of activities, extending career expectations for young women was still challenging. You can read this column here at Sentinel June 1982.
By 1983 the column had a new name and reported on the Greenham Common campaign and a day of action supported by 30,000 women including 6 coach loads from Edinburgh. You can read this article in full by clicking here on New Horizons.
The column changed again in 1984 being re-named The Women’s Angle. In this edition, March 1984, Greenham Common featured again alongside an article about fashion.
A dedicated women’s column then becomes a bit hit and miss with a women’s page makes an appearance for a few issues before fading away. The page for July 1984 highlights a proposed tax on child benefit and encourages readers to lobby local MPS and councillors in protest at the potential change. It also features girls’ clubs at Clovenstone and the range of activities on offer for girls at the community centre.
After the mid 1980s, a page or column for women ceases to be included. It might have been a resource issue with no-one available to co-ordinate a regular feature focused on women. Or it could have been that it was felt that women’s rights were now established and the need for a separate focus was no longer required. Certainly the paper continued to cover local women’s achievements, particularly in areas of training and employment. And from the early days of Wester Hailes, women played key roles in developing and managing community activity and the resulting committees and boards, featuring regularly within the Sentinel’s news reports.
Today is International Women’s Day, a day initiated in Britain back in the height of campaigning in 1977. Every year it highlights the achievements women have made, but also the inequality and struggle many women face across the world. This year’s international theme is Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures. Women in Wester Hailes fought for a more inspiring future over the decades for the area and for themselves and their families. Here in the UK, women are bearing the brunt of the recession as jobs and services are cut. For example with women almost three times as likely to work part-time than men they are particularly affected by cuts to working tax credits. Many are concerned that hard-won rights are being eroded and equality challenged, particularly for women in lower-income brackets and in areas such as Wester Hailes where barriers to employment are high. Perhaps women in Wester Hailes need to find new ways of getting their voices heard and new ways of mobilising for action.
For more information about women’s rights in the 1970s, the BBC Archive has compiled a collection of tv and radio clips which you can find here.